Archive for the 'geekery' Category


There is a severe global giveashit deficit

So I log into WordPress to write a blog post for the first time in fuckin’ forever, and I’m greeted with a banner telling me:

There’s now an easier way to create on! Switch to the improved posting experience.

I’ve been dodging this “improved” experience for a good four or five years now.  Fuck you.  I know precisely what I mean to write and how I mean to format it.  I don’t need to be kept safe from the details of the Document Object Model. I have learned (some of) that shit, and I give a shit about what I put into it. I don’t want a smart-assed interface making things “easy” for me.

People don’t give nearly enough of a shit about the things we do.  Let me illustrate:

I recently got a new job.  I’m a programmer.  I thought — still think — that I’m a pretty damn good programmer; I’ve been bossing around computers for about twenty years now, am fluent in half a dozen languages and not incompetent in about two dozen more, and have shipped everything from jQuery chat widgets (I swear, that’s the web developer’s “Hello, world!”) to global-market ETL software to fifty thousand lines of standing-on-the-shoulders-of-giants honest to balls research.

In my second interview at this new job, one of the guys asked me to describe inversion of control. I sat there with a stupid look on my face for about five seconds, then admitted I didn’t know but thought it might be related to the dependency-inversion principle from SOLID.  They hired me anyway.

Turns out I’d spent the last twelve years not giving nearly as much of a shit about programming as I thought I did.  I’d been snug in a little bubble of the same kind of C/C++ I’d learned in 1998 as an undergrad — with the occasional venture out into Haskell; I’m not a total idiot — while unit-testing practices and languages with usable reflection features built a whole new model of object graph creation.  (And, for that matter, a whole bunch of other shit I’m desperately trying to upload into my brain.)

I’d been too comfortable, sitting in my own little bubble of “good enough for the moment”, to really stretch the boundaries and get better at what I do every day.  That, right there, is what not giving a shit looks like.

Want to witness an enormous crowd of people who don’t give a shit?  Get on a bus.  Public transit is clogged with herds of people who use it every day but spare no effort to avoid getting better at it.  (“How do you ‘get better’ at taking the bus?” Thanks, you’ve proven my point.)  I commute with hundreds of people who spend a good ten hours every week on public transit and do their level best to block it out.  They don’t find a preferred car on their commuter train; they don’t find travel buddies; they don’t pay attention to which stops immediately precede theirs (or much else).  They prefer to wing it, every time, trying desperately to lose themselves in their phones but only adding to the angst of not being in control of their journey.

If you think constant giveashit — “You really expect me to pay attention to, and try to get better at, everything I do regularly?!” — is exhausting, try living with the fear, uncertainty, and doubt of constantly being a fucking-up noob.  Oh wait, you probably already do.

Tomorrow’s Monday.  Pay attention.  Give a shit.


Contact patches are important, you stupid motherfuckers

It snowed last night.  Then that snow melted, and now the molten snow has once again frozen, and I’m treated to the dulcet tones of people in FWD vehicles examining the merits of “my tires are slipping — give it more gas!

I guess I don’t really expect the ugly bag of mostly water from across the street to understand vehicle dynamics, anti-squat, and slip ratios, but I’m shocked by the number of otherwise mentally competent individuals I meet who don’t seem to give a single solitary fuck about the condition of their cars’ tires.

Listen up, y’all: Your car responds to your control inputs rather than careening into oncoming traffic if and only if  the four little patches of rubber between it and the road, each about the size of a small child’s footprint, behave as they should.  Worn-out summer tires designed to channel a few mm of water at 20degC are going to prove themselves woefully inadequate to the task of dealing with 8mm of ice crystals on top of a chaotic ice-water-tarmac interface at -5degC, which is probably about the temperature where your summer tires are thinking they’d rather not be viscoelastic but would prefer to turn into hilariously inefficient ice skates.


Scott Sumner makes three points

The first one is pretty subtle; the second is rather less so; and the third is about as subtle as global nuclear war.


Green power: Still what you don’t want to hear

Tyler Cowen reminds us that the most cost-effective low-carbon power source is nuclear.

If all the costs and benefits are totted up using Mr Frank’s calculation, solar power is by far the most expensive way of reducing carbon emissions. It costs $189,000 to replace 1MW per year of power from coal. Wind is the next most expensive. Hydropower provides a modest net benefit. But the most cost-effective zero-emission technology is nuclear power. The pattern is similar if 1MW of gas-fired capacity is displaced instead of coal. And all this assumes a carbon price of $50 a tonne. Using actual carbon prices (below $10 in Europe) makes solar and wind look even worse. The carbon price would have to rise to $185 a tonne before solar power shows a net benefit.

(He’s actually quoting Petr Beckmann at The Economist.)

This is a good time to remind ourselves that the majority of Green Power advocates — or at least the loudest ones — aren’t optimizing for power sources that reduce pollution; they are instead optimizing for power sources that minimize their own fears.  Climate change is scary, so coal and oil are out.  Energy corporations are scary, so natural gas (Fracking!  OMG ONOZ!) and oil (Oilsands!  Pipelines!  Greasy otters!) are out.  Nuclear power is about as scary as it gets, so that’s a non-starter even if it means reverting to all the other scary power sources (see for example what Europe’s doing right now post-Fukushima).

I’m not unsympathetic.  I don’t like scary things, either.  I’d rather avoid choking on smog during my morning commute or turning into a skin crayon as I’m dragged along the highway by a Prius driver dicking around with s/h/its cellphone.  (“Oh sorry, I’ve never seen someone use that crosswalk!”)  But, like GI Joe said back when I was a kid, “Knowing is half the battle!”  And knowing that, say, thorium thermoreactors are about as benign as anything designed to be exothermic is likely to get is rather empowering when it comes to tackling all those other fears.  (I would love to be educated on better alternatives, should any exist, in the comments.)


Gettin’ shredded: Boozeaholin’ for fun and profit

It’s kind of a slow night in the NFL, so I’m half-assedly digging around the internet for data on alcohol metabolism and ketogenic fat loss.

Basically, my premise is that alcoholic ketoacidosis is a thing, and is both related to ketosis and physiologically different from other forms of ketoacidosis, so maybe there are ways to use it to my advantage.  I had a vague notion going in that alcohol consumption — in particular, the hard stuff, rather than maltose-laden beer — somehow speeds up the transition to ketosis after a carb load.  If it does so by depleting liver glycogen, a few stiff drinks would act as a cheat code to get deep into ketosis after a depletion workout.

Unfortunately, most of what you get if you google up “alcohol metabolism” is variations on the theme of “OH WOW YOU GUYS, DID YOU KNOW THAT DRINKING TOO MUCH IS BAD FOR YOU?  SOME VERY SMART PEOPLE IN WHITE COATS SAID SO, BECAUSE SCIENCE!  (No, we won’t tell you the science.  You’d never understand it.)”  I did, however, come up with some hits.

Recall that the presence of liver glycogen inhibits ketosis, so after a carb load we want to get rid of that nasty hepato-starch as quickly as possible… ideally without soaking up too much intramuscular glycogen, which we’ll want to have around next time we lift.  From this remarkably non-histrionic article, we discover that alcohol inhibits gluconeogenesis in the liver.  It does this by inhibiting the conversion of lactate to pyruvate; it’s been a while since I’ve done any skill-grinding on ketogenic diet physiology but this doesn’t strike me as directly relevant; it removes a pathway for the liver to generate glucose, but if the liver’s stocked up on glycogen that pathway would be too much effort.

The article also indicates that alcoholic ketoacidosis usually happens after “starvation” (that is, a day or three of fasting), and while we’re going to take advantage of the acute fasting response and its increase in growth hormone and catecholamines that’s going to happen after we drop a few fingers of whiskey.  We would like to lift, then eat, then drink, then fast for sixteen-odd hours; and we’d prefer to spend as much of the fast as possible in ketosis.  Drinking at the end of the fast, while pleasant, isn’t the operative variable.

This “helpful” little thing reinforces the idea that alcoholic ketoacidosis results from inhibited gluconeogenesis after glycogen depletion.  Glycogen depletion’s what we’re after, so about the best we can hope for from inhibited gluconeogenesis is that a drink or three will shut down some of the complementary glucose-releasing processes in the liver and put greater demand on hepatic glycogen stores.

(This blog post has been interrupted by the Patriots remembering that there’s a football game going on in the second half.)

However, all is not lost.  This abomination, aside from the quality of the reporting giving me cancer, suggests that… well, I’ll let the paper title speak for itself: “Ethanol acutely stimulates islet blood flow, amplifies insulin secretion, and induces hypoglycemia via NO and vagally mediated mechanisms”.  It sure looks like acute alcohol consumption can trigger insulin release, leading to hypoglycemia, which would presumably lead to hepatic glycogen release into blood glucose.  Which, y’all will recall, is what we want.

If it’s relevant, which is a big “if”, this’d play right into the Carb Backloading strategy of a big but short-lived insulin spike right before bedtime, disposing of any blood glucose left over from the carb load (or, presumably, liver glycogen if you don’t carb-load the night before a non-lifting day) and setting up a prompt growth hormone spike once you get to sleep.  On the other hand, recall that my research methodology is “dick around on Google Scholar until something interesting happens on Sunday Night Football”, so take this with a pillar of salt.


Lovecraft has nothing on public transit

If you ever want to see people gripped by nameless, protean dread, all you have to do is get on a bus.

Most people on buses are students or commuters, their brains deadened by fatigue, oblivious to the horrors that surround them.  They squeeze into seats next to grubby strangers or hang listlessly from the handholds, staring with dull lidded eyes at smartphones and occasionally slurping from a cardboard cup of Starbucks.  They are mercifully unaware of the terror that envelops them and whisks them to work or school and thence back home
But some people in this waking nightmare are indeed AWAKE.  They are inescapably aware of the yawning abyss in which they travel, however desperately they may try to feign the dulled ignorance of their neighbours.
They can’t tell you what they fear, only that they fear it and that it is indeed fearful.
Seats are places of safety.  When an Awake rider boards a Bus, he or she scurries to the nearest empty bench.  But seats can also become traps, like foxholes can become graves under artillery fire; sitting constantly risks that one of the deadened, zombielike commuters might sit next to you, trapping you in the yawning horror of public transit with neither respite nor recourse.
Some of the Awakened will place bags or boxes on the seat next to them, like sleepless children whose blankets are their only protection against the carnassial things in the dark.  But this too carries risk, that of rousing one of the Oblivious from their stupor into indignant confrontation.  The wrath of a soul-deadened commuter may be less fearful than the ineffable terror of The Bus, but none of the Awakened dare risk being weakened by the former in the face of the latter.
Lacking the security of an unaccompanied seat, the Awake huddle near the exits, clinging desperately to this proximity despite the rude shocks of the Oblivious squeezing past them into the depths of the bus’s interior and the cacodaemoniacal scolding of the brusque and uncaring Driver.  Only when the opprobrium of the Oblivious threatens to boil over into violent action will the Awakened be pressed into the bowels of The Bus, pressed from all sides by sullen, looming crowds of the Oblivious and shriekingly distant from the portals that lead to the meager safety of the outside world.
Most dreadful of all of The Bus’s confines is the rear deck, up two steps from the main deck and with no exits of its own, only a single cramped portal leading to the rear doors.  The Awake will never enter the rear deck of an even remotely crowded Bus, and resist most desperately being chivvied into this area even when prodded by throngs of the Oblivious under the maddening lashes of the Driver’s instruction.  For even when trapped in the aisle between exits, if an Awake rider finds his path to an exit blocked by the Oblivious, he may still hope to find passage to the other exit; but any Awake so trapped on the rear deck has no recourse beyond panicked shoving and terrified shrieks.  (It is an article of faith among the Awake that a tap on the shoulder and a quiet “excuse me”, courtesies otherwise respected as a matter of course, are of no avail on The Bus.)
Once perilously ensconced on The Bus, the Awake peer desperately at the world outside as it whizzes past the windows in a dreamlike blur, their fear-dilated eyes searching for landmarks that might indicate progress towards the respite of Their Stop.  Any and every obstacle between themselves and this sanctuary is an object of the utmost horror, be it unexpected construction causing a blockage of traffic, inclement weather clouding the windows, or a mass of Oblivious commuters between themselves and the pull-cord or button that instructs the Driver to halt at Their Stop.  Faced with such impediments, the Awake become more and more agitated, but since the circumstances are beyond their control they rarely have any recourse but to stand, sweating and shaking, and pray to the uncaring gods that they may be granted timely exit from The Bus.
On occasion, whether by mischance or cruel conspiracy of fate, one of the Awake will board an unfamiliar Bus on an express route.  Thereupon, they will witness another traveller request egress at the next Stop, only for the hideous and uncaring Driver to pass a visible stop by with neither hesitation nor remorse.  This provokes within the Awake passenger such frantic terror that they may launch themselves at the nearest pull-cord or button, heedless to the leaden Oblivious in their way, and yank or pound frantically on this device to no apparent effect.  Even the other Awake on The Bus might turn in nervous curiosity to search out the source of the terror, and their apparent complacence in the face of endless purgatory drives the tresspassing Awake  to new levels of panic.
Then The Bus stops, and the unperturbed traveller exits, leaving the Awake to shudder at the apparent randomness of the Driver, granting sought-after escape or horrible imprisonment seemingly at his whim.

All linky, no thinky 2: The Linkening

So I’m joining the rising tide of anti-intellectualism that’s destroying Classical Liberal Arts Institutions, or whatever, and taking a course on reactive programming on Coursera (one of those MOOCs that’s destroying &c.).  Feels good to stretch my brain again; I’ve wanted an excuse properly to learn Scala for a while, and maybe this time around I’ll actually grok monads.  (If you’re wondering what “reactive programming” is, it’s writing Erlang in languages that aren’t Erlang.  So far as I can tell, at any rate.)


Is fairness a process thing or an outcome thing?  I suspect most of us’ll pick one until we come across an instance of the other we don’t like, at which point things go all Black Monolith and we club each other with femurs.

Money shot:

As I see it, many upper middle class parents desire their child to be slightly more successful than they are, and in related but not identical fields and ways.

Duh, you say, which tells me you haven’t read it.  “But why wouldn’t you prefer to hire a better worker?”  Why didn’t you buy a Bentley Mulsanne instead of a used Camry?  “So practical!”  Shut up, you’ve made my point.  Why hire a superstar developer for a gajillion dollars when all you need is someone to poke node.js with a stick?  “But assholes drive Bentleys!”  You think Mark Zuckerberg’s an asshole, don’t you?  “Huh?”  Just scroll down already.

The real insight here is into the minds of so-called “consumer advocates”.

Teetering dangerously close to reaggravating my outrage fatigue.

Oh look, a nice comforting hobby-horse.  Meta-analysis shows that “saturated fat is not the problem”.  No shit, buttercup.  Fat loss is widely correlated with improved cardiovascular health, and a fat loss diet is, de facto, high in saturated fat coming from your own god damn adipocytes.  Here’s the paper’s author giving me an enormous confirmation-bias boner:

Saturated fat has been demonised ever since Ancel Keys’s landmark “seven countries” study in 1970. This concluded that a correlation existed between the incidence of coronary heart disease and total cholesterol concentrations, which then correlated with the proportion of energy provided by saturated fat. But correlation is not causation. Nevertheless, we were advised to cut fat intake to 30% of total energy and saturated fat to 10%.” The aspect of dietary saturated fat that is believed to have the greatest influence on cardiovascular risk is elevated concentrations of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Yet the reduction in LDL cholesterol from reducing saturated fat intake seems to be specific to large, buoyant (type A) LDL particles, when in fact it is the small, dense (type B) particles (responsive to carbohydrate intake) that are implicated in cardiovascular disease.

We make kids go to school because it’s “good for them”, and everyone agrees that it’s “good for” kids to go to college.  So why not round them up at gunpoint, herd them into cattle cars, and send ’em off to West Bumfuck State?

As odd as it may sound, the majority of time and resources of the FTC is not spent on punishing bad business practices as authorized in the FTC Act. The agency overwhelmingly concentrates on enforcing another act also passed in 1914, the Clayton Act, and specifically section 7, which prohibits mergers and acquisitions where the effect “may be substantially to lessen competition, or to tend to create a monopoly.”

This is why I don’t blog about politics any more:

Pierce, Rogers and Snyder find that political partisans are more upset about an election loss than a random sample of parents were upset by the Newtown shootings.

An interesting discussion on how humans can add value to computer programs when those programs are really, really good.  The context there is chess, which is a pretty well-understood game of finite complexity.  I claim that humans have been doing this for decades in software development, whose practical complexity is limited only by what you can convince your publisher is actually possible.  Worried about computers taking over your job?  Computers have taken over mine on the regular over the past two decades, and as a result I keep getting better and more interesting jobs.

“Creative destruction” is something that most people who aren’t raging anarchocapitalists like to write off as abstract, idealistic propaganda.  Fortunately, Bryan Caplan is a raging an-cap, and he’s set it all out in time-series graphs so you can actually see it.

I have to admit, I threw this in just for the shock value.  But see previous no-think-link about college being good for kids.

Why do altruists help people?  Because they want to be seen helping people.  This should surprise precisely no-one.

Rob Ford lol.


Tune in next time for part 3, when we’ll discover whether this series is better-on-evens (Star Trek) or better-on-odds (Back to the Future)… or just shit (The Fast and the Furious).

anarchocapitalist agitprop

Be advised

I say fuck a lot



Statistics FTW


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